Developing as a Researcher Through the Culture of Sharing: Report on the First Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2013)
PhD Candidate, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
PhD Candidate, Asia e University, Malaysia
D. P. Dash
Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Malaysia
This article is a report on the first Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2013), a unique researcher-focused conference which was held at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Kuching, Malaysia, during 20-21 August 2013. The conference was co-organised by Swinburne Sarawak, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM, Sarawak Campus), and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). The conference theme was “Developing as a Researcher Through the Culture of Sharing.” This was the first in a series of events being organised by the participating institutions with the objective of enhancing research education in the Borneo region. Through the co-operation of organisers, and through the interaction among participants, new academic ties have been forged among universities in the Borneo region and researchers based in Borneo have gained opportunities to interact with researchers from outside the region, mainly from Peninsular Malaysia and India, as the participants came from these regions.
1. Focus of BREC 2013
As a “research education” conference, the event drew attention to participants’ experiences as research students within postgraduate degree programs. The conference stimulated discussion on researcher development--the development of research skills as well as a researcher identity. In his opening address, the Conference Chair, Dr Ismail Ait Saadi highlighted three key elements that constituted the focus of the conference: (i) researcher, (ii) research process, and (iii) research community. In other words, it was not focused on mainly presenting one’s research findings, but on reflecting on one’s experiences as a researcher (or research student), so as to identify the enabling conditions for researcher development in this part of the world.
Guest of Honour, Datu Dr Adi Badiozaman Tuah, who is part of the Swinburne Sarawak Board of Directors and a notable educationist of Malaysia delivered an address titled “Looking Beyond Research Findings.” Datu Adi reminded the participants of the personal and professional motivations why individuals choose the path of systematic inquiry. Therefore, research education should not be seen as merely mastering some tools and techniques of inquiry, but developing the outlook of a researcher and a sense of responsibility regarding the impact research can have on society and nature. He reminded the conference participants that a researcher’s work is never really finished: the process of inquiry continues even after a piece of research has been published.
2. Building a Support Networks Through a Culture of Sharing
Researcher development requires that students not only learn about research methods, but also develop themselves as researchers and become active contributors in a research community. The conference emphasised that developing as a researcher requires a support network that elicits research ideas, facilitates collaboration, builds capacities, and promotes meaningful research. As the feedback from participants shows, BREC 2013 created opportunities for developing such support networks among themselves. Networking opportunities arose through the presentation of their research in progress and through the more informal connections during session breaks. The conference participants reported experiencing a sense of togetherness. Participants also noted that the sharing culture instilled helping attitudes, provided emotional support, and boosted self-confidence.
The importance of connecting researchers working in different disciplines, professions, and institutions was also highlighted as one of the aims of the conference. This was experienced first-hand by participants, some of whom commented that receiving feedback from researchers with different perspectives helped to broaden their thoughts. The discussions were related to research on a broad range of topics, such as employee retention, entrepreneurial orientation, legal education, self-directed learning, financial liberalisation, Islamic banking, stock market behaviour, and educational management and policy, to name a few.
Related to this bridging of different disciplines was the plenary talk given by Mr Mike Young, CEO of XFAB Sarawak Sdn Bhd, who highlighted the gaps that persist between industry and academia. He encouraged the audience to think past stereotypes and find ways to collaborate.
3. Giving and Receiving Feedback in a Supportive Environment
Communication and feedback among participants and organisers began even before the conference commenced. Organisers set up an electronic discussion forum for participants to introduce themselves and share their expectations of the conference. This set the tone for creating a supportive environment. Some important insight into feedback was shared in a communication from the organisers before the event. In a forum posting by the key organisers, feedback was defined as “information extracted from a person and returned to the person in order to improve one or more dimensions of the person’s performance.” It is not the same thing as assessment, evaluation, or suggestion.
The supportive and encouraging tone of BREC 2013 was further enhanced with a workshop conducted by Dr Anand Agrawal and Dr Joe Martin Hays entitled, “The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback.” Participants were encouraged to practise giving and receiving feedback in small groups. The experience was then fed into to a productive discussion, highlighting the importance of feedback which is appreciative, specific, balanced, and constructive. Some participants thought receiving feedback was also a skill to be honed, one that requires an open mind and an “open heart.”
The skills garnered from the workshop were put into practice during the parallel sessions in which participants presented their research in progress. Each presenter received feedback in three formats: (i) immediate verbal feedback from the audience, (ii) structured written feedback from the audience at the end of the session, and (iii) extensive review comments written by senior academics drawn from the BREC 2013 committee of peer reviewers from the co-organising universities.
4. Changing Landscape of Research
Professor D. P. Dash led a plenary session on the changing landscape of research and its implication for the skills and competencies required of researchers in future. Traditionally, researchers are expected to develop the scientific skills of observation, modelling, prediction, and verification (as famously depicted in Rosen’s modelling relation--Rosen, 1987). However, as various studies show, researchers require a wider range of skills and competencies today due to the changing landscape of research (e.g., the APEC/Deloitte study discussed in Ulrich & Dash, 2013). Among these are project and team management skills, language skills, business awareness, understanding of the impact of research on environment and society, ability to work in an interdisciplinary environment, and ability to develop a collaborative network.
Professor Dash distinguished between two forms of knowledge: (a) “because of” knowledge and (b) “in order to” knowledge. The latter form of knowledge is assuming greater importance “in order to” achieve practical improvements in business, government, and society, as well as in individual lives. Still, the former type of “because of” knowledge is considered the foundation of research, as it relates to the more established logic and conventions of research, aiming at improved explanations and predications. Comparisons between these two forms of knowledge continue to pose several philosophical, methodological, and practical quandaries that research education needs to resolve in order to prepare researchers for their emerging roles and responsibilities in society.
5. Reflections by Participants
After the conference some participants indicated that they went through a period of self-reflection that served as a reminder of the entire purpose of their research studies. They were influenced by the humility demonstrated by the organisers, reviewers, speakers, and panellists associated with this conference. The participants began to emulate this practice of humility while providing constructive and supportive feedback to each other. They resolved to eschew the self-glorification that is sometimes found in persons with high academic qualifications.
Rosen, R. (1987). Some epistemological issues in physics and biology. In B. J. Hiley & F. T. Peat (Eds.), Quantum implications: Essays in honor of David Bohm (pp. 314-327). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Ulrich, W., & Dash, D. P. (2013). Research skills for the future: Summary and critique of a comparative study in eight countries. Journal of Research Practice, 9(1), Article V1. Retrieved from http://www.jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/377/304
Suggested Citation: Collins, H., Shamala, R., & Dash, D. P. (2014). Developing as a researcher through the culture of sharing: Report on the first Borneo Research Education Conference (BREC 2013). Research World, 11, Article A11.1. Retrieved from http://www1.ximb.ac.in/RW.nsf/pages/A11.1
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